How to Build a Team to Achieve Unprecedented Brand Growth

Colby Flood
Growth Marketing

While every business has a unique set of goals, most share one unifying objective: growth. 

How you'll achieve growth depends on many factors, from the size of the team you're starting with to your revenue goals, market competition, and industry. Still, most businesses and brands can follow a set of rules to scale predictably. 

Recently, I talked to Asaf Wolff, the SVP of Growth and Experience at The University of The People, about how his team has achieved and navigated massive growth – and what tips he feels are essential for any business leader to understand and implement. 

What is The University of the People?

The University of the People (UoP) is the world's first non-profit, tuition-free, online American accredited university. With a mission to eliminate the barriers preventing access to higher education, UoP provides opportunities for students who might otherwise be unable to afford or attend traditional universities. 

Starting from just 100 students, the university has grown to serve around 140,000 students today. A significant part of this growth can be attributed to building the right teams and having the right mindset behind hiring and team development.

Tips for Growth Through Team Building

The growth of UoP from 100 students to 140,000 is nothing short of phenomenal, underscoring the importance of assembling the right teams to support expansion. Asaf has overseen this growth and shared insights into the philosophy and strategies behind building a team capable of supporting such rapid development. Here are some key things to know: 

  • When UoP began, it was a small institution with only 10 employees and 100 students.
  • Today, the university boasts around 140,000 students and over 2,000 team members, including 1,500 instructors. 
  • Afaf credits the expansion largely to effective team building, among other things. 

Philosophy Behind Hiring

When it comes to hiring, Asaf emphasizes the need to adapt the strategy based on the organization's stage of development. Early in UoP’s journey, the focus was on finding talent rather than specific skills. The idea was to bring on board individuals who were fast learners, self-starters, and adaptable. This approach allowed the team to grow organically and dynamically with the institution.

As Asaf explained to me, "We always looked for talent and not for skills. We looked for people who are self-learners, fast learners, that we can bring on board and help them grow, learn, and evolve with us." 

This strategy was essential during the initial stages when financial resources were limited, and the primary focus was on finding individuals who could grow with the institution.

As the organization evolved, the need for specific skills became more pronounced. At this stage, hiring individuals who could bring in expertise and knowledge that the existing team might lack became crucial. This shift is common in rapidly growing organizations moving from a startup mentality to a more structured operational phase.

"At some point, you know that you need people who know more than you, who can actually teach you and help you expand to additional horizons and markets,” Asaf told me. This shift required a more focused approach to hiring, seeking individuals with the specific skills needed to drive the institution forward.

Communication vs. Technical Skills

A key consideration in the hiring process is whether to prioritize communication skills or technical skills. Asaf highlights that while both are important, the balance often depends on the role. 

For UoP, communication skills are paramount, especially given their team's diverse and global nature. Effective communication ensures team members from different cultures and backgrounds can collaborate effectively.

Asaf underscores the importance of communication skills, stating, "When every new employee joined the team, in my welcome meeting with them, I'm telling them that the key to their success is communication skills." 

Strong communication skills are essential for fostering a collaborative work environment with team members from various parts of the world, including the US, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

However, technical skills are also critical. For positions requiring specialized knowledge, such as senior analysts or social media managers, having the right skill set is non-negotiable. The ideal candidate, therefore, is someone who not only possesses the necessary technical skills but can also communicate effectively within a diverse team.

Onboarding New Team Members

Onboarding is a crucial part of integrating new team members into the organization. At UoP, Asaf follows a three-circle process:

  1. Institutional Context: New hires first learn about the university, its mission, and the broader market context. This foundational knowledge helps them understand the larger picture and the significance of their role.
  2. Departmental Overview: The next step involves understanding the specific department's operations, goals, and how it fits into the university's mission. This stage includes familiarizing new hires with the departmental processes and the roles of other team members.
  3. Role-Specific Training: Finally, the focus shifts to the specific tasks and responsibilities of the new hire's role. By this stage, they have a comprehensive understanding of the institution and department, enabling them to see how their work contributes to the overall mission.

Asaf explains, "When someone comes in, first learn the market, the context, the institution, then study the department, and then only at the end, zoom in and learn your job when you have the full context of what you're going to do." 

This structured approach ensures that new team members are well-prepared and fully understand their role within the larger organization.

How Can You Achieve Consistent Growth?

Building a team capable of supporting rapid growth requires a strategic approach to hiring, a robust onboarding process, and effective communication and collaboration. 

At UoP, the focus has been on adapting the hiring strategy to the organization's evolving needs, prioritizing both communication and technical skills, and ensuring that new team members are well-integrated into the organization. By maintaining a people-first approach and setting clear expectations, UoP has achieved and sustained remarkable growth.

Want More Strategies for Success?

Check out The Marketing Mindset Podcast, where I interview industry leaders, marketers, and CEOs from a wide range of industries every week! 

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